Two women paced the floor of a well-appointed French apartment as they yelled into their respective cell-phones. Empty fast-food wrappers and coffee containers lay scattered about. Faith dressed in her usual dark colored, close fitting, scandalously sexy clothing was uncharacteristically tense. The past year had matured her even more than prison as Buffy put more and more of the day to running of their emerging organizations on her shoulders.
Buffy wasn’t looking too much better. After having the watchers pretty much wiped out she and Giles had been working hard to put as much of the ancient order back together as possible. With the large number of undiscovered, untrained slayers beginning to make themselves known across the world the watchers would be needed more than ever to keep them in line. Faith hadn’t agreed at first until they had to put down a power mad slayer in India early in the year. The insane girls actions had shown just how bad it could get. More than two hundred men, women and children lost their lives before the end.
While most of those gifted could be trusted with the power of the slayer all too many had let it go to their heads. Control and responsibility didn’t come with the package. Those lessons had to be taught; the watchers had that much at least, right. The Firsts attack had been effective in temporarily cutting off the head but this snake was a hydra. Now there were two groups. One organization ‘The Slayers’ headed by Faith gets the job done. The other organization ‘The Watchers’, headed by Buffy, makes sure the needs of the first get taken care of and keeps them in line. Luckily Giles had an in with most of the old families so the rebuilding wasn’t impossible. Funds were slowly being made available and watchers brought in from retirement or recruited as they graduated from school. Then this had to happen.
Faith brushed her sweaty hair out of her face and sat down heavily into a cushioned armchair. With a flick of her wrist she folded up her cell and put it away. Her head lapsed back to rest against the top of leather chair. “Ok B. I think that’s the last of ‘em.” She looked at her flat-mate and sighed. This stop had been meant to give the two of them a break. It hadn’t worked out that way. They’d been living up the nightlife with two newbies when the junior-slayers had put on a light show then rapidly lost their abilities. After having powers for the past year slayers the world over were reverting to potentials and the two remaining empowered slayers were doing everything in their power to make sure their girls survived the next couple nights intact.
Buffy waved at Faith in acknowledgement and continued talking into her phone. “I don’t care Giles. We need to find her. Burn whatever credit with the coven that you need to but find out what happened.” She turned to the only other current slayer and mouthed ‘Willow’. “No. No one picks up when I call. I asked Andrew to fly out but he won’t be there for a couple hours yet. I should have had her guarded.”
Faith rolled her eyes as Buffy listened for a long period of time.
“Okay. No, you’re right. Guarding the most powerful witch on Earth who happens to live with a slayer when we had no reason to suspect anyone was after her probably would have been paranoid… Then. Now it seems like a smart move.” Pause. “Yeah, I hope so too. We’ll keep trying from here. You get those guys in research busy finding out how the spell was broken.” Pause. “Yeah, you too. Bye” With a flip and a click she put the phone away. Collapsing in another chair she frowned at Faith. “I think you got the comfy one.”
Faith chuckled. “’Bout time I got the good pick. Seriously, B. I got all our girls in their bunkers to wait things out. We didn’t lose anyone despite some close calls. As disasters go this was pretty mild. Short term,” she waggled a hand around in a gesture of measurement, “I wouldn’t give it more than a five.”
The blonde shook her head while still resting it against the back of the chair. “It’s not the short term I’m worried about.” She stood up wearily and made her way to the window where she could see Paris beginning to wake up from an all night party. “We brought those girls in. We train them and train them until they understand why they were chosen. Why they, out of all the girls in the world were given these gifts.” The woman most still considered ‘The Slayer’ turned around. “Now they’re out there and they don’t have those gifts. But, the things that go bump in the night still know who they are. If we don’t protect them…”
Faith levered herself out of the chair and made her way over next to her friend. “It’s okay B. We’ll figure out what’s making the spell go blooie and we’ll kick its ass. Then it’ll be business as normal… well, normal as it gets anyway. Five-by-five?”
Buffy gave her friend a wan grin. “Four-by-five?”
Giles hung up the phone. In a nervous habit he hadn’t managed to break himself of he started polishing his glasses. He glanced around the old English library and the horde of international, young slayers-in-training studiously going over the books. There was no music playing, no wisecracks being tossed back and forth. The scene was the very ideal of watcher/slayer interaction. He hated it. He missed the impassioned research parties. Well, maybe not impassioned. The past couple months had been tortuously dull without the Scoobys. The only real excitement they’d had was when they received a call from Wesley Windam-Price warning them of a robotic-ninja, demon slayer organization that had gained access to old watcher records.
Slowly they’d come apart. He’d hoped to be able to smooth things over with Buffy but the girl he’d come to love as his own daughter was keeping him at a distance. There had been some hope early on that the core group from Sunnyvale would stick together. But the row over Buffys doomed fling with The Immortal had driven away the young man considered the heart of the group. Ever since Xander had disappeared into Africa seven months ago the fun had pretty much gone out of things around the manor. Shortly thereafter Willow had cut ties and left Brazil to return to the U.S. and Buffy had since thrown herself into recruiting.
Bit by bit, the former librarian was putting the old order back together again. The new charter they had created to be the backbone of the reconstituted watchers council called for an experienced slayer as the leader. In theory Buffy was that head. In practice most of the running of the organization had fallen squarely on Giles and he was beginning to worry. Without a strong, present, central leader much of what they had rebuilt would fall apart during this crisis. Buffys heart just wasn’t in it anymore. He’d hoped that a vacation with Faith was the answer. Given his slayers history he should have known better. Sighing heavily with nostalgia the last of the old watchers left the library to fetch himself a cup of tea. At this point he’d almost take being knocked unconscious as a sign of returning good times.
Dawn directed the research from her post at the front of the library and watched as Giles finished up his conversation with Buffy. Though she was younger than most of the girls in the room she was looked up to as an authority figure by many of them. Dawn privately suspected that the slayers told horror stories to each other at night in the dorms. If the stories contained half a grain of truth then she could well understand why those at the end of Sunnyvale were almost held in awe. Giles wandered out of the library and the youngest Summers wished him well. Lately she’d felt much closer to the older man than she had to Buffy. The sisters really hadn’t talked since Xander and Willow had left. The blow up over The Immortal had been bad enough but ever since India Buffy had stopped listening or talking to anyone that wasn’t a Slayer. The relief she had seemed to feel after ‘The Spell’ had been cast and The Firsts plans disrupted had been entirely too short lived in Dawns opinion. The spotty information coming out of L.A. about Angel, Spike and the others hadn’t helped either. The final results hadn’t come in but the growing thought was whatever they had done to bring down the L.A. branch of Wolfram and Hart had claimed their lives as well. Certainly none of them had been seen since the collapse of the downtown LA office building and the near total destruction of their old hotel headquarters. Every day that passed made it more unlikely that either vampire with a soul would be seen again. Gathering up her teacup and saucer Dawn made her way towards the kitchen. Maybe she’d whack Giles on the head with a book for old times sake.
Shampoo finished the last of the dishes and placed the drying towel in the hamper for the morning laundry pick-up. Vertebra crackled and realigned in a continuous series of pops as the purple haired woman stretched and reveled in finally feeling WHOLE again. Her ki had been locked off for more than a year and she was feeling the need to train. Great-grandmother had come back from the Saotomes tired but happy. Although Shampoo had known even before the honored elders return that things had gone well. She’d been in the middle of the early dinner rush when her ki had flooded through her. The resulting visual display had distracted Mu-tsu so badly he’d nearly spilled a bowl of hot special spicy pork ramen on a customer. But now the café was put away for the night and the young Joketsuzoku felt the need building up within her. Her grandmother had told her that often an older Joketsuzoku battle-mistress would voluntarily have her ki locked away for a year to concentrate on skill over power. With all of the training Shampoo had done she was interested in finding out what the results were.
Mu-tsu watched in frank admiration as his beautiful wife went through a series of contortions that were designed to work out any kinks in the joints or muscles but incidentally also showed off her assets to great effect. The money the Saotomes had loaned him to get his eyes fixed had indeed been well spent. With a healthy bound that reminded him of better times the warrior closed and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before walking out the door. As the gorgeous woman walked out of the restaurant the sole male Joketsuzoku in Nerima heaved a sigh. She was undoubtedly heading over to the Saotomes for a spar and training session. During the fight his wife would flirt with, flash, tantalize and tease Ranma unmercifully. Less than a year ago Mu-tsu would have been blinded by anger at the very thought. Now he just felt sorry for his wife. He knew that she didn’t love him. Not like he loved her. But what Mu-tsu had realized and that he knew Shampoo had not was that the young woman had never had a chance with the pigtailed terror. None of the pigtailed terrors former fiancés had. He was sure the Saotome heir cared for Shampoo. Ranmas heart was like an open book to those that knew him and he did care deeply for the remaining people in his life. But, there was never going to be romantic love there for anybody. Ranmas first and only love would forever be his art. This past year had hammered that home unmercifully for those that could see. In this instance without his vision correction or even without his glasses he could see better than Shampoo.
Ranma sat in a meditative pose in the Saotome dojo. Though his body remained unmoving sweat streamed from his brow and dampened his black dogi. The uninitiated would feel a sense of presence that radiated from the seated martial artist. Those more trained and sensitive would recognize a ki adept at hard work. The elite would’ve detected the diffuse cloud of ki that spread over a good half mile. After taking a deep breath Ranma let the cloud diffuse leaving only a warning net behind. Not too bad. While his ki reserves hadn’t grown any during their confinement the increased focus he’d gained working without them was proving to be quite useful.
In fact unless he was wrong there were two ki users on their way to the Saotome dojo now. The first felt like Shampoo. Their friendship had grown a lot in the past year and he would probably be able to pick her out from a lot farther away than a mile. The second one was probably the current heir to the Tendo dojo come to make one last attempt at reclaiming the sign before he destroyed it tomorrow.
A soft pattering noise started on the roof above him and he chuckled as he felt Shampoos ki falter for moment before continuing at a slower rate. The Joketsuzoku hadn’t had to worry about her curse for so long she probably forgot to check the weather before she headed out. The light drizzle would have been just enough to activate Jusenkyou’s unique brand of practical joke. Still he should probably have some hot water handy when the cat made it here. If it weren’t for all of the problems locking his curse had brought he would have thanked the witch and her friends. Getting control of the Neko-ken had removed a weakness he thought he would never be rid of. Slowly Ranmas body ascended until he could extend his legs. The additional strain on his ki reserves pushed a thin film of sweat onto his brow. It wasn’t flight yet but he’d get there. A year to think had given him a couple ideas on how to accomplish Herbs tricks.
Walking through the light drizzle to the house the young Saotome heir allowed the water to trigger his curse. It would cost too much ki to fight off the change and it would give the incoming combatant a nasty shock when he changed back in the middle of the fight. Grinning in anticipation Ranma walked into the kitchen and put on a kettle of water. Just one more little fight and his debt to the Tendos would be paid in full. Then he could get on with his preparations for the more important fights to come.
Kennedy cuddled the head of her best friend and lover to her chest and prayed that the Wiccan would be all right. The now ex-Slayer had watched the most powerful witch on Earth try to recast the activation spell since the breaking eight hours ago. Each additional attempt had left Willow weaker and weaker until she’d finally collapsed into exhausted slumber. That had been half an hour ago and Kennedy was just beginning to settle in for the long haul when she heard the knock at the door. Not stopping the stroking of her lovers hair her free hand drifted over the handgun and crossbow arranged on the table. In the past year Willow had tried her hand at created magics but there were still a few bugs to work out. The witch’s last attempt had been a self-heating fry pan that they’d had to dump in a volcano to get rid of safely. Consequently whatever was going to come through that door was going to meet a disempowered slayer and an exhausted Wiccan. Not exactly a formidable sight.
“Willow? Kennedy? Listen if you can hear me. Umm… Of course if you’re listening you’re already hearing me um… Just don’t stab, shoot, blast or otherwise hurt me okay? Did I miss anything? It’s times like these that I wish I had my magic bone back.” came an anxious voice from the door.
With a great sigh of relief Kennedy relaxed from her vigilance. No demon was going to fake being Andrew if they could help it and the First hadn’t been seen since the destruction of Sunnyvale. Despite the positive changes the geek had undergone stress always seemed to revert him to his base state. He was getting better though. Gently repositioning Willow, Kennedy rose to check the door. Sure enough it looked like Andrew, dressed in a suit no less. She looked closer. Tell me that pin doesn’t say, ‘pet the naughty tentacle.’; the geek’s geek. Still…
Kennedy checked the peephole again. “Andrew, Willow and I have got a bet. Who was the voice of Yoda?”
Andrew put his eye up to the peephole, grotesquely magnifying it, to try to peer in. “For what media? The first voice was Frank Oz. You know the voice of Miss Piggy and I think that’s the definitive voice for most people. But there are those heretics that think Tom Kane the guy they used for the cartoon is just as go~od,” he finished in a squeak as Kennedy dragged him inside and slammed the door shut.
Andrew straightened himself and brushed the wrinkles out of his suit as Kennedy relocked and barred the door. “So who won the bet? I hope its Willow because she wouldn’t just drag a guy in like that.”
Trying to remind himself that he was now 250% more manly the young gentleman and agent of the secretive watchers council watched the attractive, vivacious but oh so deadly Mexican shaking her head as she led the current agent on the scene into the living room.
Eyes like an eagles quickly ascertained that there was a body lying on the couch. The inner narrative crashed and Andrews face paled. “Hey she’s not dead or anything is she? ‘Cause I was told if you two were dead to hightail it out of here. But, she’s not dead ‘cause anyway I can see her breathing … and you kinda locked the door behind me.” Almost nervously he looked at the closed door.
Kennedy sat back down on the sofa and lifted the unconscious woman’s head to her lap. “Just sit down Andrew and tell me what’s going on.”
Andrew plopped down in an overstuffed armchair and folded his arms in what he probably though was a dramatic manner. “Now therein lies a tale… How did the Slayers of the Vampires lose their powers?” One hand came up in a motion last seen in early Agatha Christie movies.
Almost calmly, the witch’s lover reached over picked up the crossbow and fired a bolt into the chair back. Not coincidentally this placed the vibrating bolt next to Andrews head.
Head not moving, Andrews’s eyes traced the visible length of the bolt protruding from the punctured black leather. Beads of perspiration formed on his forehead as he watched the girl he’d personally seen rip the head off a demon calmly reload her archaic but frighteningly effective weapon. Deciding now might NOT be the time for banter or story telling he cut to the chase. “Don’tknow.Alltheslayerslosttheirpowersafewhoursago.BuffysentmetoaskWillowwhathappened.”
The dusky woman waved the Crossbow of Doom in a direction that made him wince. “I swear that’s all I know.”
With a sigh of relief he watched the now ex-slayer, he supposed, put down the weapon.
“Buffy and Faith are the only ones left with any power. It’s like something just took the batteries out of the killer Energizer bunnies.”
For a long while Kennedy stroked the hair of her sleeping lover and thought before speaking. “Okay. That fits. I got sick on patrol and when I made it back I caught the tail end of some kind of magical tug of war. There was a flare and I felt the last of the power go. Since then Willows tried recasting the spell until she collapsed.”
“Great. So now the witch is down and the Slayers are out. We’ll just have to wake her up…” He flinched when he saw the look in Kennedy’s eyes. “Or we could just wait for her to wake up. I’m sure Buffy won’t mind waiting…. Up for a quick game of Dragon Dice?”
Alexander Harris dressed in worn khaki pants and a sweat drenched t-shirt pushed his damp hair out of his face with a dusty hand leaving tracks of dirt across his forehead. Almost automatically his hand reached up to adjust an eye patch that wasn’t there anymore. He gave a slight grin and picked up the shovel he was using to clear dirt from the floor of the cave. The past year had been good for him, he decided as he put his back into the work.
The first month had been pretty bad. When Sunnyvale had dropped into a hole in the ground it had left him at somewhat loose ends. In one stroke he’d lost his home, his workplace, his love and his comic collection. A year of time hadn’t dulled that pain much. On the plus side he’d also lost most of his family. From all he’d been able to find out his parents, uncles and assorted idiotic relatives had been stubborn enough to stay when everyone else left so they were gone too. Truly it was an evil wind….
He stopped work and grabbed a sip of water from the canteen next to the lantern. Now how did that go? Shrugging he returned to his work. It had taken a while for the paperwork to catch up to him in England but eventually the lawyers had paid off the insurance plans on his family. As the only remaining Harris he’d netted quite a bundle of cashies. The windfall, he smiled at the similarity in terms, had come at just the right time. Heh, is it an evil windfall?
Squatting down he brushed aside some dirt and pocketed the revealed carved stone artifact. As expected its workmanship bore a close similarity to the other relics they’d found in the caves. Buffy and Willow would just die when he told them. Xander closed his eyes in emotional pain. No matter how many times he saw it, Buffy’s ability to pick men that would only cause her eventual pain continued to astound him. The latest pick… Hmm prick? Anyway, The Immortal was her worst choice yet. Heck, even Captain Forehead had more regard for Buffys emotional well-being. Reaching over the recently muscularized young man snagged a horsehair brush from next to the lantern and began working away at stone carvings that had lain underneath the packed dirt of ages. He’d seen right through that smooth talking, rich, handsome phony with mad-skills and a seemingly endless well of entertaining stories. Well, he had after a couple weeks anyway. The ensuing arguments with the Slayer in question had been… Not pretty. Eventually he and Buffy stopped speaking. Willows timely intervention had been distinctly unfabulous. The discussion had descended from agreeing The Immortal was a jerk, to arguing over whether males in general were bad and finally… The witch’s attack on all things male and in particular her oldest friend, him, had been the last straw as far as he’d been concerned. While he’d probably forgive the both of them in the end he’d decided it was time to forge his own path. With that in mind he’d gone off on a three-week drunk that had landed him in Africa. Surprisingly he found that he had an aptitude for archeology. The combination of a memory cluttered with obscure references and the ability to manage large construction projects had turned out to be fairly useful that way. All he’d needed was a bogus degree and some rare references both supplied by some watchers council alumni. Now here he was a productive leader of a small, but enthusiastic group of amateur demonology research archeologists. More than anything it had been the group now laboring in a nearby cave branch that had been his salvation. After seven years of being attracted to and attracting demonic babes he’d finally given in and decided to go with his strengths. Okay, so he’d stumbled on to a small community of hot demon babes trying to hide out from the guys in their own dimension after being dumped in Africa by a shaman in Arizona after a raid forced him to teleport them somewhere safe. Despite the screaming, literally, willikins of their initial meeting they’d eventually gotten along QUITE well. It had been their help that had eventually led to the replacement eye he now used. Yessir, Oden Tal women were the best. The best part was there were never any mixed signals. When Jhiera or any of the others got hot, they really got hot. Ice had become his number one sextoy. Smiling lustily Xander finished clearing away the packed dirt from a large, carefully worked stone figure. He’d have to carefully move it back up with the others and make sure there weren’t any more before they could move any more refugees in here. If these stone objects were what he thought they were he was going to have quite the surprise for the other Scoobys the next time he talked to them.
On the wall behind him the shadow cast by the cut stone figure danced in the steady light of the lantern.
John Thomas was a fairly honest beat cop for a given value of honest. He’d never let a perp walk for a major crime and hadn’t taken any bribes beyond the donuts and coffee that greased the wheels of most police departments. Five years on the job had removed most of the glamour from the job but he still believed he was making a difference. He didn’t even mind being stuck on the particular shit detail the captain assigned him. He’d screwed up and considered himself lucky to only be put here. Normally rent-a-cops would be watching this place but none of them would touch it anymore. Since the terrorist attack on the Wolfram & Hart building had taken place there been any number of weird happenings and the company was just getting around to clearing the site. So far no one had gotten hurt or gone missing and his job for the next couple nights was to make sure that state of affairs continued. Once the corporation had their own people in place they’d agreed to handle the site security internally. Still despite being a career saver he’d be glad when this was over. He’d been here a week and the place was beginning to really spook him. So much so that despite regulations to the contrary he kept the snap off of his holster while he was on duty out here. Still, only a couple hours to go and he’d be out of here for the night. Kilpatrick, who’d managed to fuck up only slightly less then he had, had the day shift. Moving one foot in front of the other in the beat cops procession John Thomas turned the corner and headed down the alley formed by the temporary fifteen foot tall, chain and cloth fence on one side and the building next door on the other. Almost against his will he began to whistle nervously, and off key.
Hidden from the officer by the security fence, a large amalgamation of broken cement and twisted rebar shifted as four clawed arms forced their way free. Still concealed under the wreckage the owner of the arms breathed deeply before reapplying its strength. With a burst of movement the arms threw off the concrete mass and pulled itself free.
What little light made it down through the overcast sky seemed to be absorbed by the eight-limbed demon now revealed as it lay panting on the wreckage. A four armed vaguely humanoid torso projected from a thickset lizard body. The eyeless head swung slowly from side to side as dirty scales grated with the dust of ages.
Skimod the Damned and Everlasting shrugged off the last of the rubble that had imprisoned his ebony scaled body on the site of the hated Wolf, Ram and Hart. Finally, after almost a thousand years of torment he was free. The cage that had held him had collapsed in the apocalypse that had crushed their local power base. No longer would they siphon off his purple blood to provide immortality to their grasping brood. But he’d need to escape quickly to ensure his freedom. The travails of servitude and imprisonment had left their mark on him and he wasn’t now the terror that he was. He’d need a least a year of good feeding before he’d be able to start making his tormentors pay for their treachery. A dry, raspy, triple forked tongue flicked out and sampled the air. There was much change since last he’d walked the Earth. The number of human/prey had increased remarkably. Nostrils twitched in syncopation forming a variant of a laugh. They would remember this day well. Time to remind them why they feared him. Scampering sure footedly over the rubble the lizardfish demigod flexed his four arms and vaulted the fence nimbly and silently. The tasty smelling prey making the noise ahead of him would have just enough time to scream. Pausing for a moment, it turned around to determine the source of a small noise behind it.
John Thomas spun around his flashlight seeking out the darkest areas of the alley and banishing the darkness. This job was beginning to get to him. He could have sworn he heard something just a moment ago. Nasty childhood memories of multiple slasher flicks made him almost unwilling to turn around and resume his beat. Didn’t the monster always grab its victim when it turned around? Still, when nothing showed its face he shrugged and continued on.
Standing in defiance of gravity on the side of the building Illyria, pale blue skin peeking out from where the concealing makeup had rubbed away, watched the human until it turned out of sight before returning her attention back to the battered, bleeding and broken body of the pleading demon hanging suspended from her hand. In her youth she’d hunted these to near extinction. Often she sent out raiding parties just to fill her larders with their screaming bodies. Her Qwa'ha Xahn had sacrificed them by the hundreds to her; driving what remained of the race into hiding. Now this was the last. Ignoring the demons gurgling pleas for mercy the blue hand effortlessly crushed the demons skull. In an instant the body of the demon dissolved into screaming black motes that streamed into Illyrias mouth. As the last mote passed her lips a faint wave of energy washed over her.
She’d have to see about clearing out the rest of the buildings former captives before she resumed her search. Somewhere down there was the heart of the device that Wesley had used to siphon off her power. She wanted that power back.
Patience had never been a thing she possessed; when one had the power one took what one wanted when one wanted it. Now she knew why patience existed.
Building the structures necessary to contain her former power had never occurred to her but the memories of the shell were strong and had led her to this accommodation. Burkle had been a good choice for a shell. Once she had the device she would reinforce those memories instead of driving them out as she’d originally planned. The world was different and she needed all the guides she could gather. With her power hers once more she would recover that which she lost. Her Qwa’ha Xahn would live again. Then Wolf, Ram and Hart would pay. Then this world would tremble.